Kelp detritus: Unutilized productivity or an unacknowledged trophic resource?

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Kelp beds are one of the most productive marine systems and, while little of this production is directly consumed, there is growing evidence that kelp detritus is an essential food source for many detrital and suspension feeders, and forms an important component of offshore sedimentary carbon pools. However, the extent of the contribution of kelp detritus to the nutrition of coastal fauna is not well resolved. In this study, we compare the contribution of phytoplankton, kelp detritus, and waste from fish cages to the diet of a sentinel suspension feeder, the blue mussel (Mytilus edulis) using stable isotopes. We found a significant depletion in both 13C and 15N in kelp tissue with age (distance from stipe to the deteriorating distal end of the kelp frond) which may have biased dietary estimates in previous studies which have applied isotopic source values derived from fresh kelp. Our mixing models indicate that macroalgal detritus formed 59% of the diet of the mussels in Berehaven, Bantry Bay, Ireland. We support the isotopic mixing model results by modelling the relative production of phytoplankton, kelp, and salmon farm waste, and found the supply of C and N from kelp and phytoplankton far exceeded the requirements of the mussels with much less coming from the nearby fish cages. Monthly chlorophyll measurements indicated there was only sufficient phytoplankton density to support mussel growth during the spring and autumn, explaining our observation of patterns in the relative importance of utilization of kelp detritus. Where there is pressure to harvest kelp beds, this study highlights the supporting ecosystem service they provide as an important dietary source in coastal food webs and emphasises the need for appropriate management measures for this resource.
Original languageEnglish
Article number153191
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date17 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2022

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